After months of trying to spend as little time as possible outside, the arrival of spring likely has you desperate to linger in the sunlight and fresh air. But, sadly, it’s often far easier to wrangle up a friend to join you for manicures or a ballgame on TV than it is to enlist them for a foray into the great outdoors.
If you’re a dog owner, however, the perfect companion may be right under your nose — or, more likely, whimpering at the door, begging for some excitement. So grab a leash and get going: below are suggestions from area dog owners and walkers who’ve already sniffed out destinations sure to please you and your pup.
A few notes: all Massachusetts state parks require dogs to be on leashes; assume that the other featured spots do, too, unless otherwise noted. Many of the interviewed dog owners cite The Dog Lover’s Companion to New England (Avalon Travel Publishing, 2001) as an invaluable reference. Author Christian Lau, who wrote the book with JoAnna Downey and Beth Rogers, was kind enough to share his favorite spots in Greater Boston, and granted permission to use contact information provided in the book.
Over the river and through the woods
A favorite destination for many Boston dog owners is the sprawling Middlesex Fells Reservation, in Medford and four neighboring towns. "It is just a 15-minute drive north, but you feel like you’re really away from the city," notes Karen Nash. "And there is loads for dogs to smell." Nash, whose Doggie Daytrippers service provides off-leash fieldtrips for latchkey canines, also recommends Sheepfold, a 10-acre field in the reservation, as a place that’s "good for people whose dogs love being around other dogs."
For a dog-friendly swimming area, Nash suggests Stoddard’s Neck, in Hingham. The park is on the saltwater Weymouth River and has "poop-bag dispensers" and dog bowls you can fill with your own fresh water. "In the summer, it’s pretty great," says Nash. "There’s a wonderful grassy hill where you can sit and read a book while your dog plays with other dogs and swims."
Lau speaks highly of the Trustees of Reservations, a nonprofit conservation group that protects areas of unparalleled beauty throughout the state. The group’s World’s End Reservation, in Hingham, offers 500 acres overlooking Hingham Harbor, the Weir River, and Boston Harbor Islands, with carriage roads, trails, meadows, woods, and seashore.
The Trustees of Reservations also offers a park that could well provide the leash-free romp of your dog’s life. Rocky Woods Reservation, in Medfield, has trails and 500 acres of woods, rocky formations, ponds, waterfalls, and brooks.
Miles of space to walk and jog and picturesque views of the Merrimack River are reasons why Nancy Carpenter enjoys taking Daisy, an eight-year-old golden retriever, to Maudslay State Park, in Newburyport. The former estate features 19th-century gardens and plantings, meadows, and towering pines.
For miles of quiet, wooded paths, Carpenter suggests Harold Parker State Forest, in North Andover. "I’ve walked for an hour without seeing another person," she says. Jennafer Dinn has brought Spanky, a two-year old Staffordshire-bull-terrier mix, to the park. "It was nice and big and not too crowded, and there were many ponds and streams for hot pups to swim in," she says.
Kristen Conrad recommends the leash-free Great Brook Park, in Carlisle, which is her dog’s favorite destination because it offers "tons of trails and a field where you can usually find other dogs for your pooch to play with." She also takes Oscar, a two-year-old Newfoundland, to Willard Brook State Forest, in Ashby. "This one is out there a bit, but has trails that follow along a brook — good for periodic dips in hot weather. Apparently there are ponds where dogs can swim, too."
Surf and sand
According to Carpenter, "dogs romp with each other, swim, and generally have a blast" at Salisbury Beach State Reservation, in Salisbury. "In the off-season, you can stroll up the beach as far as you like," she adds.
For off-leash summer splashing after 5 p.m., Nash recommends bringing your pup to Good Harbor Beach, in Gloucester. "Everybody is friendly. I’ve always had a good experience there," she says.
Lau says those without a car can still visit the beach using the MBTA, which allows dogs during off-peak hours. Revere Beach, the nation’s oldest public beach, and Constitution Beach, in the Orient Heights section of East Boston, are both accessible by the Blue Line. So is Belle Isle Marsh Reservation, in East Boston, which offers views of Boston’s last remaining saltwater wetlands and the city’s skyline.
However, Lau’s top urban pick for sand, sea, and a beautiful view of the harbor is Castle Island Recreation Area, in South Boston. "It’s a great walk from Carson Beach to Fort Independence, and not too many people know about it," he says.
The leaders for a pack
Sadly, Boston lags far behind New York and San Francisco in terms of the leash-free pick-up joint — and canine free-for-all — known as the dog park. However, there are a few spots where dogs and their owners congregate.
A trip by T to Fresh Pond Park, in Cambridge, means a two-block walk alongside a busy road. However, Lau says your dog will be able to play with many others off leash — even though it’s not an official dog park.
For more than 300 years, people and their animals have gathered on Boston Common, a tradition that continues for Bostonians and their canine companions. Between 6:30 and 8:30 a.m. and 5 p.m. and 7 p.m., you’ll see hordes of dogs burning off energy while their owners watch and chat.
Along the Esplanade, in Back Bay, you’ll find the small but officially leash-free Charlesgate Dog Run. However, Nash mentions that there tend to be more homeless people than dog owners here. Far livelier and roomier is the leash-free Peters Park Dog Run, on the South End/Dorchester border.
North of the city, Cara Berthe visits Salem Common with Micah, a three-year-old German shepherd/husky mix, and Barrett, a 10-year-old husky. "There are lots of dogs on leashes and cool dog people, especially around 5 or 6 p.m. when everyone gets home from work," she says. "A dirt trail goes around the entire common. It’s the most beautiful area of Salem."
Relaxation ... refined
Of course, enjoying fresh air with your pooch in tow doesn’t necessarily require hiking boots, sand in your shoes, or muddy paws. There are plenty of ways to involve your dog in more-refined outdoor pursuits.
Nash suggests a visit to the South End, where many restaurants allow dogs at outside tables, and shops sometimes let them indoors. One restaurant, Gallia, even offers a Doggie Happy Hour. Every Tuesday from 5 to 7 p.m., weather permitting, dog owners can enjoy $1 tapas outside while their dogs munch on free "doggie tapas" created by the nearby Polka Dog Bakery — a worthwhile stop in itself.
During the summer, Lau recommends an evening visit to the Frog Pond Jazz Café on Boston Common. "It has a small seating area, the menu is excellent, and a lot of times there is a live jazz band," he says. "Your dog cannot sit next to your table. But you can find a table at the edge of the seating area and have your dog tied to the railing on the other side."
Finally, you and your pup can burn calories while absorbing some culture. Dinn notes that the DeCordova Sculpture Park, in Lincoln, allows leashed dogs to accompany visitors to its constantly changing outdoor exhibition of large-scale, contemporary American sculpture.
Genevieve Rajewski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org